Our response to hate crimes defines us as a city

Frank Jones and Eileen Hershberg form a shape of a heart with their hands Sunday near the Amor Spiritual Center on Beacon Hill. They joined city council candidates and others in a love circle in response to hateful graffiti sprayed on the building’s front window area. (Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times)
Frank Jones and Eileen Hershberg form a shape of a heart with their hands Sunday near the Amor Spiritual Center on Beacon Hill. They joined city council candidates and others in a love circle in response to hateful graffiti sprayed on the building’s front window area. (Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times)

By the time I showed up at the Amor Spiritual Center on Sunday, there were no signs of a hate crime.

Chalk hearts and a swath of butcher paper decorated with encouraging messages from schoolchildren had replaced the red spray-paint swastika and “Hate in many la [sic] languages” graffiti that was found scrawled across the church’s storefront window on Beacon Hill a few days earlier. The sentence was an apparent riff on the church’s slogan “Love in Many Languages.”

I was there for a “Love Circle,” an event meant to transform the traumatic experience into something positive for a community defined by inclusiveness. Amor calls itself as a “multifaith community” and has many members who are foreign-born and people of color.

“It was shocking to me, because I always see Seattle as a loving city,” said Rubi Romero. “So it is up to us to stop it right now. With love.”

The graffiti at Amor is not the only hate crime I’ve reported on recently.

Earlier this year, a Hindu temple in Bothell was spray-painted with a red swastika and the message “Get Out” (a nearby school was tagged with a swastika and “Muslims get out”). In response, I wrote about the disproportionate number of hate crimes targeting Muslims.

Then, just last week, I reported on death threats made against a yoga studio in Rainier Beach after it offered a yoga class for people of color.

But the Amor graffiti hit closest to home. I’ve been to the friendly one-room church a number of times for poetry readings and writing classes.

My first response when I saw the graffiti was rage. Is this really the city we live in? I was furious that a place so welcoming and kind would be targeted, its parishioners made to feel afraid.

That fear is all the more real when you consider these local hate crimes in the context of black churches burning in St. Louis and the mass shooting at a church in Charleston this summer.

But Amor’s founder, the Rev. Allen Mosley takes a different view. Recalling the church’s slogan, he believes love is capable of transforming even an act of bigotry into a thing of beauty.

“I really want this to be a love movement sent out into the world,” Mosley said at the opening of the “Love Circle.” He instructed some 70 people to circle the block, touching everything from trees and shrubs to buildings and pavement, and reciting the blessing “I love you. Thank you.”

It’s an act Mosley believes will counteract the graffiti, help heal the community and release positive vibrations out to Seattle.

Xochitl Garcia draws a heart with chalk in front of the Amor Spiritual Center on Sunday. (John Lok/The Seattle Times)
Xochitl Garcia draws a heart with chalk in front of the Amor Spiritual Center on Sunday. (John Lok/The Seattle Times)

And it was beautiful to watch as a diverse crowd of children and adults leaned against paint-peeled fences, scrawny parking-strip trees and the door of a little tailor shop murmuring love and thanks.

But I still wanted to know what was being done to stop these acts, especially in the face of what feels like an increasing number of hate crimes in our city.

According to Seattle police Officer James Ritter, who was at the event, a sense of rising hate crimes in Seattle could actually be a good thing.

“Just because you’re hearing an increase in reporting doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an increase in the actual crimes,” said Ritter, who runs “Safe Place,” a Seattle Police Department program designed to help reduce anti-LGBTQ crimes but that works with multiple communities.

“That’s why we established Safe Places — to encourage that reporting to increase,” he said.

Ritter said that increased reporting and visibility of such crimes allow communities to unite in solidarity and combat intolerance.

Rubi Romero hopes he’s right.

“My hope is that this is the one bad thing, and that’s it, but I know these types of hate messages happen a lot,” says Romero, taking a break from drawing a trail of pastel hearts on the pavement in front of Amor. “I think it’s up to the community, and I’m not saying only the Beacon Hill community but the entire community of Seattle … to pass ON the message of love.”

And that’s the kind of city I want to live in.

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

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